RV Winterization: Storing the RV in Freezing Temperatures
It’s December. And Georgia has already had snow. And not just a little snow, we had some actual accumulation and everything. The snow was seen in places like Texas and Louisiana, definitely areas not used to snow.
With such an unusual occurrence, it’s time to review tips for RV winterization to protect your tailgating machine during the freezing temperatures.
And since not all of us are full-timers or can’t travel even if we are full-timers, going south is just not an option for everyone. Sure, spending the winter months in south Florida would be awesome.
But my job is up here and I’m not ready to retire. So for now, I have to prepare my RV for the winter months.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links for various products below. You get the same low prices and we earn a small commission to help us buy more RV tailgating gadgets. Or game tickets if you go on a shopping spree.
Drain the Water
The biggest issue we all have with cold weather is freezing water. When water freezes, it expands – busting pipes and providing blockages to the free flow of water.
Just like your sticks and bricks house, the RV pipes are prone to freezing and all the same problems.
If you are not using your RV during a cold snap, you should drain all the water out using the low point drain.
After you drain the water tank, make sure to get the water out of the pipes – open up the faucets to release the water. Check the kitchen and bathroom sinks, the shower, and the toilet. Don’t forget about the hot water heater, the ice maker, the clothes washer, and the dish washer if you have any of these items.
You should also be sure to drain the outdoor shower. Since it is not inside and basement compartments are often not well insulated, you could end up with a frozen pipe/hose here. Especially for those that don’t use it often, it is easy to forget about the outdoor shower.
My freshwater tank drain is also on the opposite side from the shower, so I have to include it on my checklist.
You can also use an air compressor to blow out the lines. This helps to push any remaining water out of the pipes.
Getting the water out of the RV is the most important step in RV winterization. If you don’t have the time or resources to do anything else, please do this.
The next step for RV winterization is antifreeze.
Antifreeze doesn’t actually stop water from freezing. What it does do is change the freeze point from the regular 32 degrees to -50 degrees.
For all practical purposes here on earth, that is sufficient. You’ll be fine.
Use Non-Toxic RV Antifreeze
Make sure you use antifreeze designed for RVs.
First, you’ll be pumping these chemicals into your freshwater plumbing system.
When the warm weather comes back, you’ll be using that same plumbing system. There is a chance that you’ll have trace amounts, even after de-winterizing your RV and flushing the system.
You want a non-toxic antifreeze that is safe for humans and pets. Even if you don’t drink the water out of the RV tanks, you will still be exposed to this water in your showers and what not.
Get the non-toxic stuff.
Do You Need Antifreeze?
Depending on how much your RV is exposed to the cold will determine whether you need to use antifreeze and how much.
Since I can leave my RV hooked up to power, I can leave a small electric heater running to keep the pipes from freezing (more on that later).
I’m also parked in Georgia, where it is very rare for temperatures to get below freezing for long periods of time.
Even during the recent snowstorm, day time temperatures were well above freezing even reaching the mid-40s. I typically don’t use much, if any RV antifreeze personally.
But if you are storing your RV for the winter, especially without power or a heat source, it will make more sense to use the “pink stuff.”
Tips for Using RV Antifreeze
If you have blown out the lines, you may be able to use only small amounts in the drain p-traps (sinks and showers) where you like to have a bit of water to protect from RV odors coming up from your waste tanks.
Speaking of waste tanks, you need to keep some liquid in there to protect the seals. You should never leave the tank completely dry, even during the offsesaon. So drop some antifreeze into the toilet and down the sinks to get into these tanks to keep the water in there from freezing.
Note: Many RV manufacturers and renovation experts have moved to using waterless Hepvo valves. They take up less space than a traditional P-trap, which is always an added benefit in an RV. Also, since they are waterless, there is no water to freeze in the winter. So no anti-freeze is needed in any sink or shower with a Hepvo valve. If you aren’t sure though, it is not going to hurt to put a little anti-freeze down a drain with a Hepvo valve. The antifreeze will just end up in the waste tank.
If you are going to fully winterize your RV with antifreeze, then be sure to bypass the hot water heater. Depending on the size of your hot water heater, you will fill it up with six to ten gallons of antifreeze. That’s a lot of antifreeze to waste.
If you have drained the hot water heater, any residual water that is left in there has more than enough room to expand if it freezes. The antifreeze is for smaller pipes where if the water freezes would cause a burst. Also, don’t heat up antifreeze – make sure the heater is turned off.
Steps for Full Antifreeze Winterization
Consult your RV owners manual for specific instructions on your system.
General Instructions to add antifreeze during RV winterization:
- Clear the Tanks Disconnect all water sources. Dump your waste tanks. Use the black tank flushing system or a flushing wand rinser to clean out the tank well. Drain the freshwater and hot water tanks. Bypass the hot water heater (check your owners manual for instructions or use a bypass kit).
For the hot water tank, never drain the water when it is hot or under pressure as either can cause damage to the RV or injury to you.
- Clear the Pipes Remove all water filters from the system. Open all faucets and flush the toilet to clear the water out of the pipes (you can use the water pump for a short amount of time during this process but limit the use to prevent damage). Open both the hot and cold water low point drains to allow water to drain. Don’t forget the showers, inside and out, and the ice maker. Close all faucets and replace all plugs.
- Optional: Blow out lines. Attach a blow out plug to the city water intake. Then use an air compressor to apply air pressure to drain any remaining water. Do not exceed 40 PSI.
- Bring on the Antifreeze! Disconnect the inlet tubing to the water pump and place tubing into the antifreeze bottle. Or use a water pump converter kit. Once you are connected to the source antifreeze, turn on the water pump to pressurize the system. Starting with the closet water faucet, turn on the hot water until pink antifreeze begins to flow out the faucet, then turn it off. Repeat for the cold water and turn off after about one cup has come out (to protect the p-trap drains). Repeat for each faucet, including the sinks, showers, toilet, etc. Open the low point drains until antifreeze starts to come out there and then close drains.
- City Water Inlet: if you are using a conversion kit, you will need to add antifreeze to the city water inlet. Turn off water pump and release water pressure by turning on a faucet momentarily. Remove the small screen over the city water inlet and carefully push on the valve with a small screwdriver until antifreeze appears. Replace the screen.
- Water Pump: if you are using a hand pump from the outside, you’ll want to manually add antifreeze to the water pump.
- Check your owners manuals for how to winterize ice makers and washing machines.
- It may take several jugs of antifreeze to complete the process, depending on the size of your RV and the amount of piping and faucets you have.
- Close It Up Tight Make sure all the faucets are closed and the drains are plugged. Check to make sure the pump and the hot water heater are both off.
See Also: De-Winterize Your RV for flushing the antifreeze out in spring
Other Winter Storage Issues
Now that you have the plumbing winterized, it is time to look at other winter RV winterization issues.
Cleaning the RV
First, you’ll want to remove all the food from the RV for winter storage.
Food attracts ants, mice, and other animal infestations.
Food will also spoil and provide a smelly experience upon your return after the winter storage.
Don’t forget about any food (or drink) storage that is away from the kitchen. Due to limited storage areas, we RVers often turn anything into a “pantry.” You don’t want to come back in the spring to frozen and busted coke cans because you forgot a case under the sofa or in the cabinets over the bed.
Similarly, check the bathroom for any products that might freeze. Yes, your shampoo and other bathroom products can bust just like pipes. And who wants to clean that mess up?
This also a great time to complete a deep clean. Food crumbs are as inviting as the food in the pantry. Clean the oven, stove, fridge, and around the dinette. Clean the counters and the sink. Sweep and vacuum the floors. Clean the sheets and towels.
See Also: Dealing with RV Odors
Regular and Annual Maintenance
Closing up the RV and performing various RV winterization tasks is also a great time for some regular and annual maintenance.
- Change the engine and generator oil now that tailgating season is over.
- Apply slide out lubricant on any slide outs to protect them from drying out during the winter.
- Check battery acid/water levels. Replenish as necessary.
- Wash the outside of the RV to remove the tailgating season’s dirt and road grime. Don’t forget to wash the RV roof.
- Apply wax to protect the finish.
- Clean the awning with an awning cleaner – this is better than regular detergents because they will have mildew removers and moisturizers to prevent them from drying out and cracking. Awning cleaners will also have a UV protectant to protect against sun damage.
- Check for any gaps or entrance areas for critters. They will seek protection from the cold and can get in the RV from some of the smallest gaps you can imagine. Close these up with spray foam insulation or steel wool, depending on the gap.
- Check the roof for any leaks or other damage and repair as necessary.
- While you are on the roof, check out the air conditioner shroud and ensure that there is no damage or obstructions. Same with vents for both inside air and plumbing vents.
- Also check that any flying insect screens are still intact and properly attached.
- Check seals around doors and windows and don’t forget your basement compartments.
Batteries, TVs, and Other Electronics
Whether to remove batteries, TVs, and other electronics when you are winterizing your RV is going to vary greatly by situation.
If you can keep your RV hooked up to an electrical source, you can keep the batteries charged using the on-board systems.
But if you don’t have an electric hookup, you’ll need to either get a solar trickle charger or remove the batteries to put on a trickle charger in your home.
While TVs and electronics can freeze in certain circumstances, the bigger issue is theft.
If you feel the RV is in a safe storage situation, you can generally leave these in the RV. Speaking of theft, you’ll want to remove any other valuables from the RV as well – computers, jewelry and guns in particular. If you leave electronics in the RV during winter, do not try to use them when they are cold. Allow electronics to get back into “normal” indoor temperatures before using to reduce the chances of damage.
Speaking of theft, you may want to look into a GPS tracker like the DeWalt MobileLock system to make sure your RV or trailer doesn’t take off without you.
Added bonus: the DeWalt system also has a temperature monitoring component – great to monitor for potential frozen pipes in the winter. Also good for monitoring the heat inside the RV during the summer if you leave pets unattended.
Protect From the Sun
If possible, you’ll want to store your RV indoors.
However, that’s not possible for a lot of us. Me included. Mine is parked in the driveway and not in a carport.
So protecting the RV from the sun is important, yes, even during the winter.
Interior: To protect the inside from discoloration, pull the night shades down. This has an added benefit of protecting against possible theft – if they don’t see anything attractive, they may not stop to break in. You can also apply various protectants for leather or dashboards that you would use in a car.
Tires: If you are parking for a long period of time, tire covers are the best protection from the sun. I also like to apply a tire protection kit for the sidewalls. This provides some much needed moisture and lubricants to the tires to help protect against dry rot and blowouts.
Windshield Wipers: Another item that needs to be protected would be the windshield wipers. When parked for a period of time, you can install wiper covers which are easy to install with just velcro attachments.
If you have power during the winter months, you can reduce the risk of freezing by using small ceramic heaters inside the RV.
You don’t need to heat the interior up to make it warm enough to live in. You just want it warm enough so that the pipes don’t freeze. I usually aim for the mid-40s on the heat. In my RV, I put one heater in the living space, near the kitchen sink and the bathroom. I open the cabinets under the sinks and leave the bathroom door open so that the heat can get to the pipes.
See Also: Plugging Your RV Into Home Electric
Another useful place to put a small (personal) electric heater is in the basement wet compartments. This is real easy if you have a electric outlet in the basement compartments. The basement compartment heater will protect all the plumbing accessible through the basements – the tanks, the pump, and various hook-ups.
The only problem with the personal electric heatersis that they generally do not have temperature sensors and are either on or off.
To fix this problem, get an Ice Free Cube. These will turn the heater on at 35 and off at 45 degrees.
That means the heater is only running when there is the threat of freezing, and not on those warmer winter days.
Also remember that heat will rise. If you only have one heater, put it in the basement and you are likely to have enough heat to protect the interior pipes as well.
As a safety measure, please do not plug in electric heaters to extension cords. This is a fire hazard and not recommended. If you must do so, make sure it is a heavy duty cord, rated for such uses, and in good repair.
See Also: Compare Remote RV Temperature Monitors Perfect for Remotely Monitoring RV Temperatures During Storage
Another common problem during storage is humidity. Who wants to come back to an RV with a bunch of mold and mildew?
The best way to handle this is with a dehumidifier.
If you have power, to use for the heat, you can also add an electric dehumidifier in.
I use a dehumidifier good for small rooms and basements.
If you are handy, you can even add some plastic tubing to the water reservoir and drain it into the RV gray tank so that you do not need to continually empty the reservoir. The bigger ones usually have this as a standard option but who wants to buy something that big for an RV?
If you don’t have power while the RV is in storage, you can use DampRid to absorb excess humidity. Once the crystals have absorbed all the water they will absorb, they will dissolve. Then just throw out the bucket and replace with a new one.
If you don’t like the idea of throwing things away, try the Eva-dry renewable dehumidifiers. Once these have absorbed all the water they can, you plug these in to recharge. No tanks to empty or refills to order. Depending on the moisture in your RV, they should last 2-4 weeks between recharges.
vSee Also: How to Control Humidity in Your RV
Any Tips on RV Winterization to Add?
Do you have questions on what you need to do to make sure your RV is ready for winter storage?
Do you have tips not mentioned above to help your fellow RVer?
And come spring, check out tips for de-winterizing your RV.
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Products Recommended for RV Winterizing
Here are the products listed above that I recommend for help in winterizing your RV:
- Blow Out Plug
- RV Antifreeze
- Black Tank Flushing Wand Rinser
- Slide Out Lubricant
- RV Wash and Wax
- RV Awning Cleaner
- Flying Insect Screens
- Interior Protectants: leather or dashboards
- RV Tire Covers
- Tire Protection Kit
- Windshield Wiper Covers
- Ceramic Heater – 750W/1500W
- Ceramic Heater – 100W
- Ice Free Cube
- Dehumidifier or DampRid or Eva-dry Renewable Dehumidifiers
I think I covered all of the steps for winterizing the rv except I wasn’t able to locate my hot water tank lines. I know they’re inside, but not easily accessible. I have a sprinter van and nothing is accessible. The best thing I’ve found to do is insulation, drain the water and add the non toxic antifreeze.
I’m not as familiar with sprinter vans as I am with Class A and Class C motorhomes. That being said, one way to drain your hot water tank would be to keep the pump on and open up the hot water in your sink. Combined with the low point valves, this will clear most of the water out. Then you can cut off the hot water bypass valve and close the low point drains and add the antifreeze.
Remember, the point of the antifreeze is to make sure that the water does not expand when frozen. The antifreeze I get is concentrated and I have to add water to the bottle. If you are concerned that you have not gotten all the water out of your lines, then don’t add as much water to the concentrate. That way it will mix with whatever water is left in the system and not expand when frozen.
Lubricate locks and rubber seals. WD the door hinges. Grease the wheel bearings to push out any moisture.
Denny, great advice.
For everyone else, remember to use dry or silicone lubricants. That way you won’t get dirt or dust into the mechanics that you want to move. Traditional or the original WD-40 is more of penetrate – meaning that when it dries up, it won’t keep lubricating. Great to have in the RV for when things get stuck, but not the best for maintenance to keep things working.
If you want to keep winterize RV without antifreeze, you need: drain the water, drain the black and gray holding tanks onto a designated local dump station, repeatedly flush the toilet and open all faucets until water is all drained, makes use of a blowout plug to let compressed air pass through all the water lines for a thorough drain. It’s recommended that you line heat-generating insulation tape on hoses, valves, and water lines – as these are most vulnerable. Your RV needs a little bit of ventilation, vent covers allow your RV to control the air coming in – making sure there’s free airflow. Finally, Upgrade or install insulation will do wonders to keep your RV warm.